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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Amateur Hour at the Spellman

Imagine you're sitting in the Spellman Administration Building, watching a West Chester Area School Board Property and Finance Committee meeting. You're listening to District Finance Director Suzanne Moore give a detailed explanation of how the administration arrived at its enrollment projections for the 2011-2012 to 2014-2015 school years. At the end of her explanation, a skinny guy in a baseball cap gets up and, in a tone of forced outrage - a tone that wouldn't seem out of place at an amateur-level theater improv class - demands of the finance committee an answer to this question:

"Is it true that there aren't enough textbooks for the students in the school district?"

"What? Where did that come from?" you wonder. "That has nothing to do with the topic at hand, and it's not even the time for public comment."

A helpful local reporter turns to you and explains: "The Republican candidates for school board sent out a mailer in which they claimed that there are textbook shortages in the school district. The administration has already said publicly that there are not. The guy asking the question is a Democratic committeeman, and he hopes to get the administrators to say again that the Republicans candidates are making false claims. This is somehow supposed to help the Democrats win the school board election."

"Oh," you say. "Why would the Republicans claim there were textbook shortages?"

"Well, the Republican candidates think that, by portraying the current, majority-Republican school board as the party responsible for an imaginary textbook shortage, they can beat the Democrats. For an analysis of why, read the Daily Local Dan blog sometime next week."

Yes, the Oct. 19 property and finance committee meeting (which you, of course, are too interesting to attend) was packed with political operatives. One row - the row I'm interested in - was filled with Democratic committeepeople who were doing a pretty amateurish job of trying to get the administrators to publicly debunk the claims the Republican candidates made in their mailer.

Every once in a while, one of them would interrupt the meeting and ask a question like, "Is it true that the district is in a financial crisis?"

The meeting took on the tone of a late-night infomercial. It was embarrassing.

The Democrats' shoddy acting does not excuse the Republicans for resorting to scare tactics. Their campaign mailer made the following claims:

- The recent school tax increase, combined with the economic downturn, has forced parents to take their kids out of private school and send them to public school. (Enrollment rose by about 200 more students than administrators had expected. District officials have speculated that this is because some parents can no longer afford private school.)

- The enrollment spike has led to overcrowding in classrooms and buses. (The district says this is not true.)

- The resultant overcrowding has led to textbook shortages. (The district says this is not true)

- The teachers salary hike has prevented the district from being able to afford to hire new teachers to relieve the overcrowding. (The district says this is not true, and points to the fact that it has hired more teachers to handle the unexpected influx of students.)

I believe the district. Here's why:

If there were textbook shortages, classroom overcrowding, or bus overcrowding, the Daily Local would have gotten at least a few calls and emails from outraged parents. And we would have gotten these calls in September. Yet, we've heard nothing. Until, that is, we got a look at the Republican mailer.

I shared this argument with Republican school board candiate Sean Carpenter.

"Maybe you aren't talking to the same people we're talking to," he said.

"It's possible, but we're a local paper," I said. "We don't usually have to wait to hear about things like this. People call us all the time about problems at schools, and so far, we've heard nothing."

"Maybe people are afraid to call the paper because they believe they won't be treated fairly," Carpenter said.

I told Carpenter that, based on past experience, I know that not much will stop an angry parent from calling us.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're correct. It was an amateur hour. We're aamateurs who care about the public schools in West Chester. We don't claim to be anything else. It was our attempt to point out that the Republicans were shading the facts in order to win votes. You quoted Mr Carpenter in your article the next day about this in the DLN that these "facts" were anecdotal. We want individuals on the school board who do their homework and educate themselves with real facts not from anecdotal conversation gathered from the ladies at a Tea Party.

October 24, 2009 9:03 PM 

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